(48) The Intruder

The Misha Campaign (284-1121 to 286-1121)

284-1121 : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne tells the crew of Nightshade what he's discovered and worked out as a result of his trip into the Wonstar Development Corporation warehouse offices.
    The operations here go under the name of "Rosebud."  The only other reference was to something called "Paradise Gateway."
    There are several projects here, all apparently related to making agriculture feasible.  All funding is handled from the head office -- deliveries here are all paid for in advance by the central company office.
    Eventually there are plans to build a town, powered with a fission reactor.  Anyway, they already have a fusion plant here -- they've detected one underground -- so why would they add an inferior fission reactor?  The fusion plant has output comparable with a starship engine -- it could be powering anything down there.
    The plans of the future project showed a ten meter pipe delivering water vertically to the fission plant.  That's enough to move a billion gallons of water, not a flow rate they'd need, surely.  It's much more plausible for it to be a silo, or access underground, or anything other than it's overt purpose.
    And why would they do a farming project here?  Almost the entire planet is arable land, and they haven't come close to using it up yet.  The equipment here already could be used to construct almost any project, although the inventory shows it's certainly consistent with the stated purpose.
    Oh, and one more oddity: the site manager, someone called Ell Corvani, has a mailbox slot but no corresponding office.

    Callisto runs a densitometer scan of the warehouse and brings it up on the command holodisplay.  It shows the building as they've seen, plus a shaft headed straight down from the other covered internal area that they didn't investigate.  There is a lower level about ten meters below ground level, and the shaft continues on down from there for about a kilometer and a half.  There is some other level at that depth, but there isn't enough resolution on the current scan to get much about it.  The fusion reactor they picked up earlier is down around that level too.
    The area under the surface is slightly larger than the footprint of the building.  It could take a couple of hours of tuning the sensitivity to get the resolution much better, but they decide that the risk of revealing themselves with an active scan outweighs the value of data they could get from it.
    Misha Ravanos proposes a physical intrusion of the warehouse, sneaking in and getting a lot more detailed information than they can from the sensors.  He himself is good at stealth and intrusion, and Jaek says he can "get around in there."  Nevertheless, Misha decides that he alone will perform the mission.
    Kalida Siena says that the captain should not be going off by himself, but Misha insists it will be best done alone.  With a smile he answers Kalida's concerns by leaving her in charge.  He will remain in contact by commdot, and will let them know if he needs help -- otherwise they're to stay on the ship.
    Jaek starts out to accompany Misha, but is told to stay behind.  Misha then directs Helia Sarina to put Nightshade down about a hundred meters from the fire exit door they've used before.

    Misha has examined the guards' patrol routine, and times his approach to the building accordingly.  He's wearing his zack, and carrying his sword too -- while it takes more skill to fight with zack and sword, he feels more comfortable with the blade.  He's also been rigged up with a dotcam, but of course it would be a live transmission back to the ship, so he's been provided with an on/off switch and instructed in its use.  He'll only transmit when he feels it's necessary.

    Now that it's night and the air's cooled off somewhat, the thin atmosphere isn't as rough on Misha as the previous intrusion missions.  By Wonstar standards it's quite cool here.  He slips easily through the fire door into the warehouse.  He shuts the door quietly behind him.
    The building is as brightly lit now as it was during the day.  There is no-one moving about and no sounds of anyone.  Misha moves carefully over to the internal walled area in the northeast corner.  It has no windows, but a single door.  The internal plastic ceiling of this "box" is three meters high, just like the office area.  He checks around the edges of the unit to see if it really is a box, unattached to the rest of the building.  On examination, the plastic box is complete, but it attached with brackets and bolted to the warehouse supports.  The top of the box is a flat panel.
    Misha moves over to the door.  Listening carefully doesn't reveal any signs of anyone inside, so he carefully opens the unlocked door.
    Inside is a workers' lounge area.  There is a small kitchen area on the far left, a foosball table and various chairs on the right, and the northeast corner of the area is taken up by what looks like another enclosed box which would seem to be the elevator unit.  There is no sign of any equipment over the top of the elevator.  The lighting in here is dimmer than outside in the warehouse; there's a spotlight over the foosball table.
    The elevator has a call button and two lights, of which the lower one is illuminated.  There's no sign of any security devices -- no keycode, no card reader, and the call button is dirty and greasy and clearly can't read fingerprints.
    Misha presses the call button.  There is silence for a while, then the doors open with the ring of a bell.  Sword at the ready, he checks the elevator car -- it's empty, so he goes in.  The controls consist of two buttons, each beside a light.  The top light is lit, the lower one is not.  He is disturbed that the elevator has only two buttons -- he checks carefully to see if he can find any other control that might take the car into the deep lower section of the shaft, but he doesn't find one.
    He presses the lower button.  The doors close.  There is no noise, but a sensation of moving down.  After a very short trip, the doors open with a "ding!".  The lower light is now lit on the control box.
    Misha has hidden himself as best he can.  He hears voices, apparently a man and a woman engaged in light conversation.  He can't make out the words.
    The open doors reveal a lighted lobby.  From where he is in the southwest corner of the car, he can see only about half of the room.  The left wall has some doors and windows, but there are no lights behind the windows.  The voices come from his right, where he can't see.
    He peeks carefully to where he can see the rest of the room.  To his right is a desk; a woman has her feet up on it, relaxing in her chair.  She's dressed in casual clothes -- shirt, trousers, fairly short hair.  The voices are coming from a television that she's watching intently.  The right-hand wall looks similar to the other side, except that the elevator is off center in the lobby to Misha's left.  Beyond the desk along the wall are some easy chairs -- it looks like a waiting area.  On the right the doors are finished wood, as opposed to the left wall where they're plain plastic.  This area takes up maybe a sixth of the footprint of the building.  Since there isn't anyone in the upper warehouse, there would have to be about thirty-five people down here somewhere.
    The woman has not reacted to the elevator despite the bell.  The doors are now starting to close, which Misha allows them to do.
    Misha thinks he might be able to make it to the first door on the left, if he's really quiet and the woman doesn't look around.  He opens the doors again (ding!) and makes his way into the lobby, heading for the chosen door.
    Immediately on entering the lobby, he can see through the windows on the left wall.  There are boxes beyond.  Misha eases over to the door and opens it.  He slips through and closes it behind him.
    His first impression was correct -- this is a storage area with many cardboard boxes stacked around the room.  The only door is the one through which he entered; there is a window either side of it looking into the lobby.  The light coming through the windows illuminates this room fairly well.  From what he recalls about the densitometer scans, this room probably represents the northeast corner of this underground level.
    Misha examines the boxes.  They are labeled in Imperial script.  He opens one and finds it contains liter-sized steel cans, such as would contain food.  The label shows some sort of plant product, perhaps green beans.  He quickly checks out the remaining boxes, and nothing looks sufficiently different to indicate they would contain anything but more cans of food.
    He returns to the door and peeks through the window into the lobby.  The woman has taken her feet off the desk, has pulled out a magazine, and has started reading.  She looks bored and drowsy.  Unfortunately she's now facing directly at the door concealing Misha.  Nevertheless he figures that if he moves back behind some of the boxes, he should be able to talk quietly with the ship without being heard by the woman.
    He is tempted to try to make the elevator, but decides it would be safer to wait.  He moves back behind the stacks of boxes and calls the ship.  "I'm in, I'm in the first level.  I can't find a way down -- yet -- but there's this guard-like thing that's sort of in my way.  I'm going to wait to see if the guard falls asleep."
    Robert replies, "You don't have a tranquilizer dart?"
    "No.  It would have been a smart thing to bring."  He pauses, then says, "I could probably get out if I have to, but I'm going to wait."
    The guard reads the magazine, then starts on the crossword at the back.  Misha settles back to wait.
    After half an hour or so waiting, Misha hears a pop from the lobby.  He looks out carefully.
    The guard has put her feet back on the desk, and is sitting back watching the television again.  A now-open can of Diet Zurta is on the table beside her.  Misha keeps waiting.
    After another half an hour, she's engrossed in the television.  There's no sign of her getting significantly more tired.
    Misha decides it's time to leave the same way he got in.  He opens the storeroom door, creeps over to the elevator, and presses the call button.
    The doors open with a ding and he slips inside.  He lets the doors close, and again examines the car carefully to see if he can find anything that might function as a control to make it descend further.  He finds nothing except a maintenance panel underneath the buttons.  Without a screwdriver he decides not to try to open it.  Instead, he holds the down button for an extended period to see if that does anything.  When he releases the button, the doors open.
    "Can I help you?" calls a woman's voice from the lobby.
    Misha does not answer.  He quietly taps the up button and the doors close again.  The elevator ascends quietly and smoothly.
    Back at the top, the doors open.  Much to his surprise, Misha sees no-one waiting for him.
    Instead of heading straight back, he searches this area first.  There's nothing with any potential to operate the elevator, except perhaps the light switches.  There's a panel of four switches by the door where he came in.  He fiddles with the switches and finds that they all indeed operate various lights in here.
    There are still no sounds of anyone in the warehouse.  Misha now looks around at the crates.  He'd need a crowbar to open them, and there is one over where the workers have been doing just that.  These crates contained mechanical equipment of some sort.
    This is enough looking around for Misha.  He goes back to the fire door, and tries to time it so that he won't be seen by the guards when he opens it.  As he eases it out a crack, he sees a guard who's just passed the door walking away from him.  Misha waits for him to move out of the way, then sneaks back to Nightshade.
    Teri Cralla is waiting on the cargo lift, FGMP in hand.  She greets him, and closes the lift as the captain comes on board.

    Over dinner, Misha gives a full report of his mission to the rest of the crew.  He explains that he couldn't find any way to make the elevator go lower.  He adds that there was no cable in the shaft.  The guard was actually more of a receptionist, but her presence restricted him to just seeing the one storage room.
    "Should have killed her," smiles Jaek.
    "I thought about it," says Misha, "But I thought we don't need to start that.  I wonder if the Doctor, Mich, or other of you could generate a device to let sleeping gas out into the room.  Something that would put her to sleep without her knowing it later, so that she'd just think she fell asleep at her job."
    Misha then tells Helia to take Nightshade about a kilometer and a half from the building, while he goes back to his stateroom to take a nap.
    Meanwhile, Robert Morris checks with Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead to see if he can wipe a memory.  The Doc says he can wipe memory, but not selectively -- not yet, anyway.  He can wipe it all, and he can transfer brain patterns from one person to a blank brain, but he can't wipe anything selective like the last half hour.  He is sure that the equipment here has the potential to do that, though, but he's working on other aspects of the Sick Bay at present.
    As for tranquilizers, Bridgehead suggests that there are tranq grenades in the armory, and he has tranq rounds for his gauss pistol.  Or he can provide an injector so that they can sneak up behind the guard and knock them out.  He could provide a canister of anesthetic gas for them to work with.
    Mich Saginaw says he can build a device which will release it silently.  He sets to work.

285-1121 : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    The crew sits down to breakfast as local time approaches evening.  Mich reports that he's built the gas grenades.
    Callisto has been recording activities at the warehouse.  She says that the helicopter remained parked all day.
    Robert has been analyzing the warehouse computers via the link Jaek installed.  He's found that there's nothing of significance -- inventory, payroll, and nothing much else.  It all seems to be normal for the project they say they're doing.
    Mich has the sleeping device ready.  He presents Misha with a gas mask and shows him how to use it.  He tells him that the device is a ball that he's to roll into the room, after after it's gone a certain number of meters, it will release the gas.
    Misha asks if anyone else wants to do the trip tonight.  Jaek is interested, but is willing to let Misha do his thing again.

    Misha leaves at midnight local time after an early lunch.  This time he says that if he hasn't contacted the ship for six hours, they're on their own.  This time he also remembers to bring a set of intrusion tools.  Again he's armed with sword and zack.
    The entry proceeds very much like yesterday's mission.  He again takes the elevator down to the next level.  The door opens with the ring of a bell.
    "Can I help you?" says a voice.
    Misha says nothing, but rolls the sleeping device into the lobby towards the desk and waits for the door to close.  He hears someone getting up.
    Misha pauses, then opens the door.  The receptionist is on the floor, holding the ball in her hand.  He retrieves the ball, then carries her over to her chair.  He arranges as he saw her the previous night, facing towards the television with her feet on the desk.  Perhaps she'll think she fell asleep naturally.
    It isn't a silent process, but there seems to be no reaction.  He checks the desk.  There's an intercom, office supplies, and a spiral bound book.  Of course Misha can't read it; he turns on the camera so those on the ship can see.  He scans through the book quickly -- they can always slow it down on replay if they need to see more detail.  Other than that the desk is unremarkable -- in the drawers there's a pair of slippers, a few magazines, a pack of cards, half a dozen cans of Diet Zurta, a small revolver, and more office supplies.
    Misha moves to the first wooden door on the right-hand wall.  There are no windows to this area, even though the other two wooden doors on the wall do have windows either side.  There is no noise behind this one, so he carefully picks the lock and opens it.
    It reveals an office.  It's set up for a single person with a desk on his right, and there is a door in the far wall.  There are several filing cabinets.  It looks like a secretary's office.  There is a triangular bar on the desk with some gold writing; the camera is still on so someone else can tell him what it says later.
    The other door is also locked.  It's not a simple key as the previous door, but easily dispatched by Misha.
    This is an executive office.  It's quite large.  It contains a desk, luxury chairs, a conference table, various cabinets and other office furniture.  There's a large television screen occupying most of the left wall at the head of the conference table.  Two cameras either side of the screen (and a third at the other end of the table) appear to be intended for videoconferencing rather than security.  There is another door towards the north end of the far wall.  It is not locked, and leads to the executive washroom.  He works his way back to the lobby, closing and locking doors behind him.
    The windows beside the next wooden door show an office area with three desks, chairs, cabinets, a blackboard, and so on.  He opens the unlocked door and checks the office area.  A door at the far end leads to a small kitchen area.  A further door at the far end of that is heavy and locked.  Misha unlocks this door, and opens it to reveal nothing.  There is a large, dusty, empty area carved out of the rock.  Clearly they've dug it out but not built anything.
    He backs out to the lobby and tries the third door.  This is identical to the second, including a second kitchen and door to the cavern.
    Back into the lobby, and to the double door opposite the elevator.  There is no noise behind this, so he opens the unlocked door.  There is a short corridor with a door on each wall and another double door at the end.  The side doors lead to male and female bathrooms (right and left respectively).  The double door at the far end is also not locked, but he hears sounds of breathing and snoring beyond.  Very quietly he opens the door -- it's stiff and difficult to move without squeaking, but Misha manages it.  Beyond is a dormitory with about fifty beds.  He closes the door again and moves back to the lobby.
    This leaves the three plastic doors on the other wall.  Of course he has already visited the first, and through the windows of the others it's easy to see that they too are storerooms.  No point in wasting time with those.
    He calls the ship to check how long he has left on the sleeping gas device.  They tell him he probably has about ten or fifteen minutes -- enough to check out the executive office again.  He goes in, picking the locks again on the way, and starts immediately with the cabinets in the executive office.  The first cabinet, once unlocked, reveals it contains various printed books.  The second, also locked, also contains similar books.  As he's picking the lock on the third cabinet, he hears a siren.
    He locks the cabinet again, and quickly heads to the lobby, listening at each door first.  he locks the first door behind him.  Once into the lobby, however, he hears sounds of shouting and movement in the direction of the dormitory.  The receptionist is still out cold.  He leaves the last door unlocked and calls the elevator.  He steps in quickly and punches the button for the warehouse.  As the doors close, he sees someone coming through the double doors opposite.  They are pointing at the receptionist and apparently have not noticed Misha.
    At the top, he's expecting trouble, but doesn't find any on his way to the fire door.  Up here there are no sirens to be heard.

    On Nightshade, they have of course heard the sirens over Misha's live feed, which he's left on since recording the desk book.  Robert is ready; he's been scanning for any radio conversations, and is already prepared to jam any communications he detects.  Radio traffic from the building, unencrypted speech, seems to indicate that they've taken it as a false alarm -- "We're trying to get them turned off.  Don't worry about it, there's nothing going on down here."  Jaek says that since they haven't apparently noticed Misha yet, it would be best not to reveal their presence by jamming the transmissions.

    Misha has indeed avoided any trouble, and returns to the ship.  Nothing seems to have changed as a result of the alarm.  The external guards have not changed their patterns, and there's no extra activity.  It's still late afternoon here.

    Now that Misha's back, it's time to study the video he sent back.  First he tells Helia to move the ship away from the building, and as she's doing so he debriefs: "I didn't learn anything new.  I did get caught almost, but you all saw that."
    The others can now tell Misha about the books.  The first cabinet was all legal textbooks, dealing with interstellar Imperial law.  The second had books of relevance to the overt project here; an assortment of books on climatology, desert environments, irrigation, as one would expect for a terraforming project.  There's also several volumes of Who's Who In The Imperium.
    The book on the receptionist desk was an appointment calendar.  It shows a Mr. Jones arriving when the helicopter did -- he's due to leave tomorrow.  Visits are clearly infrequent here -- the book is mostly empty.  There is another arrival due ten days from now -- a Miss Franklin -- which would have her arrive on 63/2876 local date.  Misha didn't scan enough to get her departure date, but she'll be here for at least three days.  There's no note with the appointments of who they're seeing, just arrivals and departures.
    Shark and Jaek then study the tapes, but can't find any new information.

    Over dinner everyone starts talking about what to do next.
    They could intercept Miss Franklin and substitute one of the crew for her.  The down side of that is that these people are supposed to be researching paranormal activities, so they may have other ways of checking identity.
    But as Misha points out, they don't know if these folks are actually bad guys.
    The WDC does have other locations, of course, and rather than hang around here for a week they'd just as well visit them.

286-1121 : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    Around midday local time (midnight shipboard), Callisto says she's got a reading on a sensor system that's unfamiliar to her.  She calls Robert over, and he recognizes that the football sensors have fired.  They're triangulating a location underneath the warehouse but they can't tell what depth.
    Robert says that's useful information and they need to tell Shark.  When Callisto asks what these sensors are, he replies merely, "They're sensing neural activity."  He tells Shark and Misha about the readings.
    MIsha immediately tells Helia to move the ship quickly -- but quietly -- back to the warehouse.  A crowd collects on the bridge at this unexpected development.
    Jaek asks Robert what they've picked up.
    Robert says, "They measure neural activity."
    "Yeah?" says Jaek, "I've never seen them go off before."
    Robert is still operating the console.  "It's a special type of neural activity.  Shark's football sensors.  It's located in the first level under the building.  The level is fairly low."  He adds, "It's measuring psionic activity."
    All the new folks stare at Robert in shock.  Jaek says, "That can't be good.  You guys fail to mention that before?"
    Misha says, "Failed to mention what?"
    Robert says, "Did we fail to mention that we were hired onto the Third Eye to investigate psionic activities?"
    Helia says, "I wasn't hired to do that.  I was hired to fly the ship."
    Misha adds, "I don't believe we were hired to investigate psionics.  Nobody mentioned psionic activity."
    "Till just now," says Jaek.  "If I was a good and loyal Imperial citizen I'd have to be shooting you all now!"
    "No, no, there's no psionic activity on this ship.  We have sensors to prove it."
    Jaek says, under his breath, "Bastards."
    Robert reflects that the sensors haven't triggered until now because they're filtering out background noise.  He says aloud, "These sensors sense psionic activity and they haven't gone off until now, right?  So there isn't any psionic activity on this ship.  But they're going off now and we've triangulated it to under the warehouse."  He looks at his holodisplay, and continues, "And they just stopped.  Now, have you ever noticed Mich's helmet?  His anti-psi helmet that he continually wears all the time?"
    Jaek has noticed it.  It's a little more compact than the regular model, but it's clear what it is.  "It seems like it's a little overkill," he says.
    "So his paranoia with psionics matches yours, if not even more.  Well, he's been in a situation where he had to kill someone because they were exhibiting psionic activity."
    "OK, so what did your sensors say was the strength?"
    "Low, like one person?  Like weak?  Like old? Like animal intelligence?  Do you know anything about these sensors?"
    "There's a single source, relatively low level activity.  Not like the creatures on the planet that would suck you..."
    "You know they can use that sort of stuff to see the ship out here?  Well, maybe not to see this ship, never mind..."
    Robert  knows that the ship does shield psionics according to their tests.  Aloud he simply says, "No, they can't."
    "Good!  It makes it difficult to hide."
    Misha says, "So two of those rooms, the office areas, had windows to the lobby.  There was a kitchen area in each -- why would you want two kitchens next to each other?  Because people were going to spend a long time in those rooms, and weren't allowed to leave them, right?  Like all day.  So what circumstances would they be in there all day?"
    Robert says, "When they're being under testing."
    "Yes.  They're being tested."
    Jaek says, "Their workers.  Or they're slaves, or prisoners, we don't know what's down at the lower level.  What if it's an iridium mine?"
    Misha points out that the two office areas have no dormitory.  "And If you were building an area to house people for a long time, wouldn't you have one kitchen, not two?"
    Kalida points out that neither office/kitchen unit has bathrooms.
    Jaek says, "Do you know who they're testing?"
    "They're testing people for psionic ability," says Robert.
    "We haven't even seen anyone come in, just a chopper unloading supplies.  I don't buy that story, there isn't enough activity.  The offices with the two kitchens are strange.  Maybe they're, like, scientists experimenting with different latte mixes.  I still think we have to get down to the lower level."
    Misha says he's open to ideas.
    Kalida says that if they worked at it long enough with the densitometer, they could get more detail.  But as Jaek points out, that would expose them to detection of the active sensors.
    Jaek runs through a list of possibilities to take the elevator lower -- anything on the desk, for example?  Misha did not see anything obvious that could help.

    So that leaves them checking out another location.  Jaek suggests the head office, sixty kilometers southeast of Downport City.  Perhaps Mich or Robert can tap into the network and get information there -- if there were a network, that is.  Robert says they could park really close to another ship at the downport and try it through them.  Misha wants to get all the public information on the Wonstar Development Corporation.  What they do, how they operate, anything information they can get.

    One more incident of interest -- Mr. Jones was scheduled to leave the warehouse today, but the helicopter hasn't moved.